Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 28th February 2021.
The hymn ‘Lord of all hopefulness’ is a fairly well-known and popular hymn. Apart from being used at regular church services, I have been asked to include it in services for baptisms, weddings and funerals. Just to remind us of the words, here are its four verses.
LORD of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy
whose trust, ever child-like, no cares could destroy,
be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.
Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe,
be there at our labours, and give us, we pray,
your strength in our hearts, Lord, at the noon of the day.
Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
your hands swift to welcome, your arms to embrace,
be there at our homing, and give us, we pray,
your love in our hearts, Lord, at the eve of the day.
Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
whose voice is contentment whose presence is balm,
be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.
This may be regarded by many as a hymn that has been around for a very long time, but unlike ‘Love divine’ by John Wesley (1707-1788), ‘Praise, my soul, the King of heaven’ by H.F. Lyte (1703-1847), or the Lent hymn ‘Forty days and forty nights’, by G. H. Smyttan (1822-1909), ‘Lord of all hopefulness’ was written in the last century. And there is an interesting story behind it.
If you look in a hymn book, you will see the name of the author given as ‘Jan Struther’. This was the pen name of a lady called Joyce Anstruther. She came from a wealthy upper-middle class family, with a house in Westminster. After she married she and her husband lived in Chelsea. I don’t think it was a particularly happy marriage. Jan was a poet and author, and during the Second World War she had a column in the Times newspaper about a fictional woman called Mrs. Miniver, describing how Mrs. Miniver was coping as a wife and mother in London during the war. In 1940 a film was made about ‘Mrs. Miniver’ and it became very popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
Though married, Jan Struther fell in love with a Jew who had escaped from Vienna during the early part of the war. After a short time he went to the USA. Jan found an excuse to follow him, to promote ‘Mrs. Miniver’, and the British Government paid her to do some propaganda work in the USA on the back of her lecture tours. I don’t have space to tell you her whole story, but she eventually returned to England and died from cancer at the age of 51. Her grand-daughter, Isenda Maxtone-Graham, wrote a biography of her grandmother, entitled ‘The Real Mrs. Miniver’. It’s a very good read. I recommend it!
Jan Struther was not a ‘churchy’ person, but she did write this lovely hymn. On the face of it, this hymn is a personal prayer asking for God’s protection throughout the day: for ‘bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of day’; for strength at our labours and in our hearts ‘at the noon of the day’; for love in our hearts ‘at the eve of the day’; and for peace in our hearts ‘at the end of the day’.
But I think there is another way of looking at it. Reflecting on the words of the hymn, I can see in it an allegory for our lives. At ‘the break of the day’, when we are young, we want to be able to wake up and enjoy every new day. When we get a bit older, we pray for God to be with us and to help us with our work and in our hearts and minds. At our ‘homing’, when we have retired and are, as it were, on the last lap of our lives, we pray for God’s love to fill our hearts and be a comfort to us. And we pray that when we reach the end of our journey through life, we may find peace for our souls.
Whether or not you agree with my suggested alternative way of looking at the hymn, the hymn is essentially a prayer of hope. At different stages in our lives, our hopes tend to change with our circumstances. In the difficult times that we are currently living through, what we all need, to help us get through, is hope – hope that eventually we will win the battle against the pandemic; hope that we and our loved ones will be protected; hope for those suffering from the virus and hope for their loved ones who are worried about them; hope for those who are worried about their livelihoods; hope for those who desperately need hospital treatment when the hospitals are full; and hope that we will soon be able to give a big hug to the loved ones we have not seen for a long time. And for those who do not make it through the crisis, we pray in hope that they may find peace with the ‘Lord of all Hopefulness’. Amen.